The Big Piece

The Big PieceATLANTA – OK, let’s take a break from all the injury talk and bullpen question marks for a day… or at least until J.C. Romero and Scott Eyre complete their bullpen sessions on Saturday.

And then there is the issue of Carlos Ruiz’s sprained wrist suffered on a play at the plate during the second inning on Friday night.

Oh, and J.A. Happ came out of the game after three innings because Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley saw him grimace after a play and alerted Charlie Manuel. Needless to say, Happ wasn’t too pleased about coming out of the game.

“There was a lot of debate and I lost,” Happ said after the game, adding that his argument to stay in the game included a lot of nodding and telling anyone who would listen that he was OK. “It seems like the player always loses those debates.”

But what about Ryan Howard? After all, for the second straight game he got drilled by a pitch on the same exact spot on the right forearm.

What are the odds of that happening?

“Probably pretty high and I beat them,” Howard laughed.

Ruiz’s injury as well as the injuries to the relief pitchers is of the most concern to Manuel, who believes Happ will take the ball in his next start. As far as Howard goes, well, those two shots to the forearm should have felt like nothing more than a bee sting to the big fella.

Make that, “The Big Piece,” as Manuel calls him.

“He’s all right,” Manuel said. “What did I tell you about getting hurt? Don’t be getting hurt. That’s three feet from Ryan’s heart. He ain’t dead by a long shot. If I had arms that big, hell, a baseball wouldn’t hurt me.”

It’s more like the other way around. Howard has been the one hurting the baseball these days. Actually, make that a lot of days since it appears as if The Big Piece is well on his way to becoming the most prolific slugger in team history.

Friday night’s pair of homers made Howard the first Phillie ever to bash 40 in four different seasons. And not only did Howard hit his 40th homer for the fourth season, but he did it with panache.

For Howard it’s 40 homers AND 120 RBIs in four straight seasons. Not only hasn’t a Phillie ever pulled off such a feat, but very few Major Leaguers have accomplished it. In fact, Howard became just the fourth member of the club on Friday night at Turner Field.

The Big Piece joins Babe Ruth, Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa as the only sluggers in Major League Baseball history to slug 40 homers and drive in at least 120 RBIs in four straight seasons. That’s it.

But get this, only one other hitter accomplished the 40-120 trick in more than four straight seasons and that was The Sultan of Swat himself. The Babe did it in seven straight.

Here’s the amazing stat for Howard – in 717 career games, he has 620 RBIs. That comes to an average of 140 RBIs per 162 games, which is the career high of Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew and Jim Rice.

And that’s Howard’s average.

There’s more to consider, too. Howard doesn’t turn 30 until November 19, he never drove in more than 149 RBIs in a season which points to his uncanny consistency. However, the numbers that really stand out are the splits from August, September (and October) from the Big Piece.

Check this out: 91 of Howard’s 217 career homers have come in the last two months of the season. Additionally, 254 of his 620 career RBIs have come in the last months, too. That means Howard feasts on pitching late in the season when the games take on added significance.

Enjoy it folks… sluggers like this Howard kid don’t come around that often.

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